Sotto: Death penalty bill may be marked priority, but passage is uncertain
Partial, unofficial tally of the 2019 midtem elections showed President Rodrigo Duterte’s chosen senatorial candidates dominate the race. Meanwhile, opposition candidates are struggling to gain a seat.

Sotto: Death penalty bill may be marked priority, but passage is uncertain

(Philstar.com) - May 16, 2019 - 12:55pm

MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said Thursday that the proposal to reinstatement death penalty on high level drug trafficking crime may be marked as priority in the coming 18th Congress, but stressed this would not automatically mean passage through the Senate.

Speaking at the Kapihan sa Senado forum, Sotto said: “In the 18th Congress, we will ask [Sen. Manny] Pacquiao if it’s still priority to him.”

“In the new Senate, there’s a possibility of 13 [votes],” Sotto added.

The death penalty has a twisting past in the Philippines, having been outlawed in 1987, reinstated six years later and then abolished again in 2006.   

A capital punishment bill that passed the House in 2017 allowed execution in cases where suspects were caught with 500 grams (about 18 ounces) of marijuana, or 10 grams of cocaine, heroin or ecstasy.

18th Congress composition

Of the handful in the Senate minority bloc, the terms of Aquino and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV will end on June 30.

The latest partial, unofficial tally of the 2019 election available Thursday noon showed that nine of the 13 candidates fielded by administration backed Hugpong ng Pagbabago slate made it to the Magic 12.

Included in the winners’ circle are President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies, his former top cop Ronald Dela Rosa, former political adviser Francis Tolentino and former special assistant Christopher “Bong” Go.

This raised fears that the Senate would lose its independence come the start of the 18th Congress, and the immediate passage of bills that Duterte wants, such as the reinstatement of death penalty and shift to federalism.

But Sotto said that even if the 18th Congress would mark the death penalty bill as a priority measure, it would not mean its passage.

He recalled that the 17th Congress had “long discussions” over the matter.

Sotto said that if the bill would remain focused on reinstating the capital punishment on high level drug trafficking, there is possibility that it would hurdle the Senate. But if crimes punishable by reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years of imprisonment would be included in the proposed measure, the number of vote for its passage would dwindle, Sotto added.

The Senate president also said: “I think what will be passed by the Senate would be based on its merits, not because it’s being endorsed by the president or not being endorsed.”

An independent, transparent Senate

Sotto also said that the leadership of the Senate is not from the same party of the president. “I would like to maintain an independent, sincere, transparent Senate.”

He also allayed fears that with incoming senators having close ties to the president, this would weigh on the checks and balances of the government.

“Outright, I’m saying no. It won’t happen,” Sotto added.

The Malacañang earlier allayed fears of the Senate losing its indepedence as it expressed hope that the incoming senators, including former officials of the Duterte administration, to be independent and rise above partisanship when tackling issues involving national interest.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Tuesday that Senate history showed that the members of its chamber have been “independent ever since.”

"We expect them (senators) to be fealty to the duties imposed to them by the Constitution and the laws. They have to support the president when the agenda of the president is for the good of the people and they will have to oppose it if they feel in their conscience that it ran counter to the interest of the nation," he added. — Kristine Joy Patag with reports from Agence France-Presse

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